HBC Archives: A Tale of Two Bison Transcript


The Prince Rupert was a barque built in 1841. The building was contracted by the Hudson's Bay Company. It was 103 feet long and it had a sister ship called the Prince Albert.

Cargo was typically things like the furs, the pelts, passengers, retiring officers of the company, plants, wildlife specimens. On this particular voyage they were actually bringing live buffalo. They brought two live buffalo back with them that is shown in not only the ship's log but it's also shown in the post journal.

The book of ships movements shows us all about when a ship started its voyage and completed. And if we think about transportation in today's terms it's it's documenting the round trip. It tells you who the captain of the ship was and tells you at the various different points of the journey they were there would be certain standard markers that they would be meeting, certain spots that they would be needing to say when they got to a certain spot.

And so we see that for the Prince Rupert's fall voyage in 1843. What we have here is the ship's log for the Prince Rupert. The entry for September, for Wednesday September 20th reads, “Wind easterly and very light throughout. Weather fine and clear. Eight o'clock Boat Maria came alongside with two Buffalo and hay. Crew employed is most useful preparing for sea. One o'clock p.m. captain heard returned from the factory. 2:30 hoisted in the yawl placed her bottom up as shelter for buffalo. 8 p.m. the factory yawl came alongside with York factory packet, cabin passengers, and their luggage. Midnight strong gale from the Northwest weather fine.”

The post journal is interesting if you're trying to find out information about ships voyages because the activity at the post obviously would have been impacted by the comings and goings of ships. And so for the fall of 1843, from the ship's movement book we know that they were leaving around the 20th-21st of September and so then it's pretty easy to go back to the York Factory post journal to that date and see what was going on at the post.

“Cold weather with light clouds, wind Northwest. The Frances this morning proceeded to five fathom hole with the steerage passengers and the Maria with two buffalo and thirteen trusses of hay as their provender for the voyage. The packet will be closed in the course of the day and with the cabin passengers be sent on board in the afternoon after which the Prince Rupert will proceed to sea with the first fair wind.”

Later in that same voyage if we're looking for more information about the buffalo, we find that there isn't anything mentioned until October 27th when at the very end of the day's entries we note that “buffalo bull died this day.”

And so it seems that this is this is the only indication actually that they were probably a male and female. Nothing else had indicated that prior to this so that could lead us to other assumptions about why they might have been going to London. Maybe they were being brought across to breed, maybe they are going to a zoo, it's hard to know. But at this, at this point we do know that the bull died.

This example of the buffalo is really just one example of how the interconnectivity of the Hudson's Bay Company records provide opportunities for researchers to explore the fuller context of the events they are studying and in effect allows them to flesh out the stories that can be found in what are otherwise simply records of a business trying to thrive.

It's quite interesting that researcher could take any topic really but look at different aspects of the story through different kinds of records and the purpose for the creation of that record is going to then slant the kinds of information that might be gathered or recorded about the event or the details.